Jailed for ‘conspiring’ to foment the 2020 Delhi riots, based on a 40-second clip from his 40-minute speech, he has weekly video calls with his mother, who dreams of the day her son would come home
Sharjeel keeps a diary of her experiences at Tihar prison, hoping to write her Abbu’s dream book. Photo/Twitter
Men in uniform ran away with Muzzammil Imam after finding him at his friend’s house in Kako, Jehanabad district, Bihar on January 28, 2020. Stopping at a farm, the boss barked: ‘Run . Muzzammil squats defiantly on the ground. The boss grabbed his hair, put a gun barrel in his mouth and said, “Where is Sharjeel?”
Muzzammil said he did not know where his brother was.
Sharjeel had gone into hiding on the evening of January 25 as five states, one after another, filed FIRs in relation to his speech at the Aligarh Muslim University. From this 40-minute oratory, a 40-second segment had been published on social networks. It depicted Sharjeel asking the Muslims to organize a blockade of Chicken’s Neck or the Siliguri Corridor. Only then, he said, would the Modi government withdraw the Citizenship Amendment Act.
From the farm, they drove Muzzammil, blindfolded, to Karauna police station. The boss ordered, “Take off your pants.” Shooting a video, making it viral on social media, the boss told his friends, repeating over and over again: “Where is Sharjeel? They had been looking for him for two days.
Sharjeel was awaiting the arrival of Ahmad Ibrahim, a lawyer friend, from Delhi. They had decided that he would surrender to the police in the presence of Ahmad. At 3 p.m. Ahmad reached Kako. But before Sharjeel came out of her cousin’s house to surrender, her mother was taken to meet her.
She collapsed. She said she warned him not to get tangled up in the anti-government protest. He said, “Ammi, if we educated people don’t protest against an unjust law, who would defend the poor Muslims? He said he was imitating his father, who had worked for the community before his death in 2014. Sniffling as she told me this, she said her parting words to Sharjeel were, “Go, I’m taking you into custody of Allah. He alone knows better.
Since then, Sharjeel has been released on bail in four of the seven cases registered against him. Yet he is languishing in Delhi’s Tihar Jail, as the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, under which it is difficult to secure bail, has also been invoked against him, for conspiring to to foment the 2020 riots in Delhi. So it will be that Sharjeel will celebrate his birthday inside Tihar on June 1st.
His family does not organize birthday parties. The only exception, Muzzammil recalls, was when Tej Pratap Yadav, son of Lalu Prasad Yadav, called Sharjeel to wish him his birthday in 1999. Tej said either Sharjeel should come to the chief minister’s residence to make the feast, or the imams would. have to house him and his bodyguards.
Sharjeel and Tej were classmates in Standard V and VI at St Xavier’s High School in Patna. The imams played cricket at the chief minister’s residence every night. Muzzammil recalls Lalu’s wife, Rabri Devi, then chief minister, sitting Sharjeel and him on her lap and giving them sweets every Holi. This is where Sharjeel had her first birthday.
Tej left St Xavier after Standard VI. He became Minister of Bihar in 2015. Sharjeel went to Indian Institute of Technology Bombay. He rots in prison. On the contrasting stories of the two school children, the Ammi of Sharjeel would probably say: Allah knows best.
At IIT Bombay, Sharjeel identified the negligible presence of Muslims on campus as a significant factor behind Islamophobia there. He was questioned about his beard and such. Once, during an initiation interview for a hostel, a student asked: what would he do if they abused the Prophet Muhammad? Still, he has made several Hindu friends, who help him in various ways through his ongoing trials and tribulations.
With BTech and MTech degrees from IIT, he turned down a job in an international bank offering him R37 lakh per year. The reason: he did not want to work for an entity profiting from interest, which Islam prohibits. After working for two years in Bangalore, one fine day he called his Abbu to ask permission to study history.
Go ahead, Abbu said, but Ammi objected, arguing that the family’s financial problems would be exacerbated without Sharjeel intervening. Abbu retorted that Sharjeel would write a book for the whole world to read. He was selected to take an MA course in History at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi. In 2014, Abbu was diagnosed with stomach cancer. To meet medical bills, Sharjeel wanted to return to the corporate world. “No,” vetoed Abbu. “I will die soon.”
His incarceration blocked his doctoral thesis. In prison, he reads and keeps a diary of his experiences, hoping to write his Abbu’s dream book. A widow, Ammi prays daily for the release of Sharjeel every namaz. Her solace is the weekly video chat with her son.
She tears herself apart to feel lighter, when her heart overflows with grief. It looks like she just cried, as she exuberantly asked: Did you know that Sharjeel led the Eid prayer in Tihar? “Masha’Allah, Sharjeel has gained weight,” Ammi said, confirming what Khalil Gibran wrote: “Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.” A heartless state cannot erode a mother’s optimism.
The author is a seasoned journalist.
Send your comments to [email protected]
The opinions expressed in this column are those of the individual and do not represent those of the newspaper.